CDLong
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Need some guidance with my garden about improving SOIL

Newbe to the forum. I've had a garden for the past 7 years. I've had good years & bad years.

We plant :
  • sweet corn
  • cucumbers
  • beans
  • peas
  • cantaloupes
  • melons & watermelons
  • squash & zucchini
Normally we get 1/2 of the growing season because plants start to yellow & die, or the squash bugs eat us up.

I have tilled with my tractor to a depth of 8 inches. Below that is clay. The dirt looked great when I tilled it, dark brown, but once it dries out, it's light brown as in the bowls.

This year I have purchased an Environmental Concepts soil test kit. I'm happy with this kit. It replaced my Rapitest kit. My PH is 6.5 to 7.5. I have no nitrogen or potash. The Phosphorus is P-3.

I had used tap water for the Rapi-test kit and got no readings. I then saw I was supposed to use distilled water. I drained the water off my samples and let them completely dry out. Once they were dry, the top 1/4 inch cracked into large pieces, then when I tapped the bottom of the bowls, some broke up and some didn't.

Note the attached pictures. Is this normal or should the soil stay loose?

Any help with fertilizers, what to add to the soil, etc. will be greatly appreciated. We added mushroom compost from ta grower 3 years ago. We added top soil last year, 3 inches thich thru the entire bed.

I have purchased a power culivator head to attach to my string trimmer to keep the ground broken up this year. I have also purchased a liquid fertilizer feeder that goes in-line of my watering sprinkler.
Attachments
Soil 9.jpg
Soil 8.jpg
soil 7.jpg
Soil 6.jpg

imafan26
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Re: Need some guidance with my garden.

You can always add compost to any soil. I usually don't add more than 20% by volume but I have heavy clay soil and more compost would just hold too much water. Sandy soils can tolerate more compost.

I am not familiar with your particular test kit. I usually send mine to the the university extension service and it costs about $12 for Major nutrients and pH. Fertilizer recommendations are included. You would have to look at what the normal values would be for your particular kit. I don't know what P-3 means. My normal for a vegetable garden would be around 37 ppm. Nitrogen is usually not tested because it is a volatile element. Instead a leaf is usually sent to measure nitrogen. Mushroom compost from three years ago is probably used up by now. Mushroom compost is alkaline. Your pH range just says that it is ok but most plants like a slightly acidic soil. If you are going to do organic, it must be added every year.

It actually would be better to get a soil test done at your local extension service. If you ask they will give you organic fertilizer recommendations and the recommendations are included in the price of the test. Just remember that whatever nitrogen recommendations there are, it will be the total nitrogen. The total nitrogen requirement is usually divided between two or three feedings.
https://extension.udel.edu/lawngarden/mg/ncc/

It is always a good idea to get a baseline when starting a new garden, but unless I am adjusting pH, I usually only have to retest every 3 years or so. The cost of the test is minor compared to what I am saving by not adding fertilizer I don't need.
Happy gardening in Hawaii. Gardens are where people grow.

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rainbowgardener
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Re: Need some guidance with my garden.

But no, healthier soil would stay darker and looser. Your soil is clay with not much nutrient content. Best thing you can do for your garden is start a compost pile, so you can be continuously adding more organics. Next best thing is always keep your soil mulched.

Image

That's one of my garden beds, mulched with straw raked out of the chicken coop. Before I had chickens, I mulched with combinations of fall leaves, pulled weeds, grass clippings, etc

It's another way to be continuously adding organic matter to your garden soil.
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CDLong
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Re: Need some guidance with my garden.

Thank you folks. I appreciate the help & advice. I'll do some more studying! I enjoy the fruits of my labor, but I want all I can get out of the growing season. I will update this post to let you know what I've done and how the garden is coming along.

CDLong
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Re: Need some guidance with my garden.

After researching, my state has a "yard waste dump". All yard wastes can be disposed of here. A contractor then mulches the wastes and it can be taken by state residents for free. Would this work for the garden? If yes, any idea what tool I'd use to get it from the huge pile into my truck bed?

bri80
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Re: Need some guidance with my garden.

If I were you I would pay the $25 it would cost to have your soil professionally analyzed. Firstly you need to figure out your organic matter levels, calcium and magnesium. I don't trust home test kits to reliably provide much, if any, information. Maybe pH. Maybe.

Without a professional analysis I can't say for sure, but since you say you've added compost and topsoil, I'm guessing your magnesium to calcium ratio is way too high and you need a large infusion of agricultural (not dolomite!) lime. Unfortunately rebalancing might take a couple years of lime additions before you start to see less hardening/clumping.

imafan26
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Re: Need some guidance with my garden about improving SOIL

The problem with municipal yard waste is you won't know what they put on it. If there are hard to kill weed seeds or if homeowners used long acting herbicides, the mulch would have to be composted first. If there might have been herbicides used then the compost needs to be aged for at least a year or you can do a test grow with cucumber seeds when the compost is mature to see if any herbicide damage shows up.

You might be able to get free mulch from local tree trimmers. You will have to inspect it first to make sure it was just tree trimmings and no roots or weeds. No palms or walnut trees. You can add that to a compost pile or use it as mulch for the garden. You cannot use mulch as compost. As it decomposes it steals nitrogen.

If you have dairy, chicken farms or stables nearby you might be able to get manure for free or low cost. It should be aged 120 days or hot composted before used.

See if there is a composting facility near you. Most of them will post their analysis or give you their compost analysis if you ask. Most compost is alkaline, but it also buffers pH and acts more neutral. Compost is something that should be added every year but it is best to add a good blended compost made from a variety of materials. That is why it is a good idea to start a compost pile before you start a garden. It will also reduce your waste because you can compost most of your clean yard and garden waste and save space at the landfill.

I would not add a lot of dolomite or wood ashes or anything that would change pH until you get a a good soil test with recommendations about what and how much to add. If your pH needs to be corrected, the test will tell you how much lime or sulfur you need to add. Nitrogen, Phosphorus excess can leach into the water table and back into lakes and oceans so you should not apply more than you need and use nutrient scavengers to clean up any excess. Excesses of phosphorus, potassium and calcium take years to fix as they have to be leached and diluted out. Any correction to pH will take six months to change anything one way or another so you don't want to over correct. Compost you added 3 years ago would not have much residual now. Calcium/Magnesium ratio does affect pH but it usually gets more alkaline if you have been adding alkaline compost. I usually just switch to peat moss instead since it stabilizes an alkaline pH faster and for a longer time than sulfur.

Your soil in your picture does not look like it has a lot of organic matter in it.
All soil tests now recommend adding organic matter. I only add about 4 inches of compost and mix it in my soil. A blended compost is better than one from a single source. Composted manures 1/2 inch. Chicken manure should not be used on an alkaline plot. It will drive the pH a half point higher. Mushroom compost is alkaline and a single source.
All soil tests will recommend nitrogen. Nitrogen is volatile and is readily lost so some nitrogen will always be recommended. However, if you have lush greens and not a lot of fruit. I would skimp on the nitrogen or plant a scavenger crop after a high user like corn without additional nitrogen to mop up any excess.

Compost is not fertilizer. Fertilize according to recommendations. Extension soil tests usually will give conventional fertilizer recommendations. You need to ask for organic. You may have to convert lbs per acre to lbs per 100 sq ft. unless your extension gives your recommendations per 100 or 1000 sq ft. The cheat conversion is One acre = 43560 sq ft. 100/43560 = approx 0.002. Multiply your lbs per acre by 0.002 = lbs per 100 sq ft. (10x10)

You have mostly heavy feeders: corn, cucumber, squash, melons
Your peas and beans are the soil builders. You don't have any root crops which would be your light feeders. Onions, beets, turnips, kale maybe something to think about. Some can tolerate a light frost. If you have 5 beds it would be ideal since you could rotate your heavy feeders with soil builders and use one bed for making compost, lasagna style. When I did compost, I found that to be the best way to rest the garden was to build the compost pile on the fallow section. After all, the best part was always on the bottom of the pile. Since you have so many heavy feeders you need to get the fertilizer right. Pests are problems when your plants are stressed. If you include plants to attract beneficial insects it is better than spraying in the long run.
https://www.co.thurston.wa.us/health/ehc ... _sglpg.pdf
https://www.ufseeds.com/Delaware-Vegetab ... endar.html
Happy gardening in Hawaii. Gardens are where people grow.

CDLong
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Re: Need some guidance with my garden about improving SOIL

Wow. Thanks to you all. This is just what I needed. I'm glad I picked this forum to join!

imafan26
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Re: Need some guidance with my garden about improving SOIL

This is the page on the Univ of Delaware website that had information on soil testing. Soil tests from the extension services are a lot cheaper than a private lab.
https://extension.udel.edu/dstp/
Happy gardening in Hawaii. Gardens are where people grow.

CDLong
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Re: Need some guidance with my garden about improving SOIL

Iamafan26, you have been a very big help. I thank you Sir!

CDLong
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Re: Need some guidance with my garden about improving SOIL

Found a supplier with a topsoil & mushroom compost mix. Added 4-6 inches of this in the garden beds & Dr. Earths vegetable fertiziler. Then hit it with the tiller. Several soil samples taken to UofD for analitical. Seeds have been planted using a garden plot map. 2 types of watermellons, cantalope, honey dew, sweet corn, cow peas, squash, radishes, orka, pole beans. We purchased Burpee & Gurney seeds. Do you save remaining seeds or satrt with fresh seeds every year. In he past I have frozen them. When planted, some frozen seeds did well & some didn't. Please let me know if you'd do something different. Thanks, CD

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rainbowgardener
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Re: Need some guidance with my garden about improving SOIL

Seeds should last 3-5 years or more, depending on variety and how stored.

Store them in cool, dry, dark areas in paper envelopes (plastic holds moisture in and moisture is the enemy). Can be the veggie crisper of your frig or can be any cupboard that stays cool.
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jal_ut
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Re: Need some guidance with my garden about improving SOIL

Hmmmm...... all this talk about soil tests.. I have only been gardening for about 65 years and have never done a soil test. I suggest: If the soil seems heavy in clay you might add a bit of sand. Any soil will benefit from the addition of organic matter. Especially in the fall. Put your leaves on the garden plot and all garden plant residues get tilled in in the fall. During the growing season you may mulch with grass clippings from your lawn. Go the the gardening store and get a bag of something with NPK on the label and use a bit of this. Careful, just on the soil, never get it on the plants.
Gardening at 5000 feet elevation, zone 4/5 Northern Utah, Frost free from May 25 to September 8 +/-

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jal_ut
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Re: Need some guidance with my garden about improving SOIL

About storing seeds. Here in high dry Utah I just keep seeds in paper envelopes and in a cardboard box that resides out in the garage. They are dry, but at whatever temperature the weather brings us.

12 years ago as part of a food storage program I put enough garden seeds to plant a garden in a one gallon can and it was vacuum sealed. Recently the can was opened and I tested some of the seed. It all came at a very good rate.

The point is: Seed will last a long time. Some varieties more than others. Don't be afraid to store seed for next year. Just keep it cool and dry.
Gardening at 5000 feet elevation, zone 4/5 Northern Utah, Frost free from May 25 to September 8 +/-

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Gary350
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Re: Need some guidance with my garden about improving SOIL

I sometimes buy garden soil $15 a pickup truck load at the Amish Garden store. Organic material is one of the best thing for the soil. Sawdust is free at the local cabinet shop, lumber yard and some saw mills but set this aside let it compose about 4 years before putting it in your garden. I often dedicate 1 row of my garden just for saw dust but I do not plant anything in that row for 1 year. 3 cu ft bags of peat moss is good especially for plants that like acid soil like peppers and potatoes. You can clean out horse barns for the free manure. Sometimes you can find truck loads of manure for sale beware of cow manure it will give you the worse case of weed seeds you ever saw. Pile cow manure to the side of the garden cover with a black tarp let it bake in July full sun to kill all the weed seeds. Tree leaves are good too lawn mower will mulch them into tiny pieces that till into the soil easy.

CDLong
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Re: Need some guidance with my garden about improving SOIL

Great info, thanks to you all!

imafan26
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Re: Need some guidance with my garden about improving SOIL

Seeds store for different lengths of time depending on the seed. Some seeds lose viability quickly and are not worth saving from year to year. Corn, papaya, zuchhini are the ones that have the poorest germination rate as they get older so I start fresh with those or buy starts if I only need a couple of plants. Most seeds if stored cool and dry will last 3-5 years. I have dill and beans tht are over 10 years old and still have good viability rates. Heat and moisture will cause seeds to decay or lose viability faster. Some varieties will store longer than others.

https://www.clearcreekseeds.com/seed-viability-chart/
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Taiji
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Re: Need some guidance with my garden about improving SOIL

I've become a big fan of both winter and summer cover/green manure crops to be turned in later to help add organic matter to soil. (I should probably change my forum id to covercrops or koverkrops or something)! Probably a little late for this year, unless you want to devote some space to warmer weather cover crops like soybeans, buckwheat, etc. This year, I think I may do that; I might have a little extra space. :)

Usually in fall, I plant winter or annual rye, or clover for that purpose. It overwinters, then turn in in spring. 8)

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